Volume > Issue > Christian Feminism: Progress or Regression?

Christian Feminism: Progress or Regression?

Christian Feminism: Visions of a New Humanity

By Edited by Judith L. Weidman

Publisher: Harper & Row

Pages: 196

Price: $12.95

Review Author: Ronda Chervin

Ronda Chervin is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and Consultant to the U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops on the Pastoral on Women in Society and the Church.

Can there be a Christian feminism? This ques­tion has often been asked by those puzzled at ideas coming forth from this new way of thinking.

Christian Feminism: Visions of a New Hu­manity, a collection of articles written by women scholars, appears to this reviewer to be neither Christian nor feminine. Nonetheless, the perspec­tives developed are important enough to warrant our consideration.

Not a rehash of clichés, this new book takes for granted many of the more controversial posi­tions of feminism and purports to take us further into a positive vision of the harmony that will al­legedly come when feminist theology has succeed­ed in transforming the present patriarchal frame­works we are so familiar with.

Ranging in subject matter, the book includes such formulations as these: “She/he is the shalom of our being,” transcending all dualisms — The Godd-ess (Reuther); “sexism is an expression of sin, alienation, oppression, and fallenness” (Reu­ther); since only nonsexist churches are authentic (the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most sexist) “the only alternative is the creation of fem­inist base-communities” (Reuther); a feminist bibli­cal approach would develop “a hermeneutics of suspicion” or proclamation rather than factuality, of creative actualization of Bible stories from a feminist perspective…denouncing as nonrevelation oppressive patriarchal texts (Fiorenza).

Brock wonders if feminists can accept a reli­gion in which we are redeemed by a male savior. We must, it is said, reject the traditional theology in which Christ is described as Lord, Judge, and foundation for absolute either/or choices, in favor of a theology that starts from feminine experience.

Russell claims that breakthroughs can only come when conferences devoted to women’s issues in the church cease to view women as a problem and come to realize that it is theology that is the problem. I was intrigued to learn in passing that the Presbyterian Church in which she is a minister actually took a vote in 1981 on the divinity of Christ.

Other articles giving interesting viewpoints on lifestyle changes, work, and sexuality correctly stress the need for new patterns in society to lift the heavy burdens that women working outside and also inside the home experience in the double roles. But most of these writers take it for granted that sexual liberation of all kinds, including abor­tion, constitute progress toward the freedom of women.

It is this reviewer’s conviction that there is plenty of room for new Christian visions of women in society and the church. Such explorations, to be authentic, should be based on a strong living exper­ience of Christ in the church. Most of the writers in the book, however, seem to think of God more as a symbol of human liberation than a personal being to be loved in the same I-Thou way they plead so rightly and forcefully for in the case of feminine/masculine human friendship.

That a woman was the first to see the resur­rected Lord seems more important than the Resur­rection itself, which becomes for most of these feminists a hazy symbol. Their key values — such as justice, equality, harmony, growth, peace, self-affirmation, wholeness, empowerment, empathy, sharing, openness, and mutuality — while genuine values greatly to be sought, are nonetheless scarce­ly different from those of the Enlightenment. There is little reflection on the failure of secular humanism, so obvious to those such as this review­er who, shipwrecked by the rhetoric of existential­ist courage-in-emptiness, discovered in Christ and the church the redemption of the self and the true path to genuine love.

How, indeed, are we to heal society and the church of such negative “masculine” qualities as domineeringness, coldness, and self-righteousness, if not through the love of Christ which comes in the sacraments and prayer? Nevertheless, I must agree with my sister-writers that there are still plenty of negative masculine as well as negative feminine traits to be found among those who dismiss Chris­tian feminism without a hearing.

I began this review by claiming that this book is neither Christian nor feminine. Concerning the feminine, I find that the acceptance of abortion, al­most taken for granted in this book, constitutes a terrible betrayal of the ideals of sharing, mutuality, and tenderness so much proclaimed by the same authors. They seem ready to see the most helpless and abused of all creatures treated worse than any women have ever been. Another feature, more surprising, is that while frequently writing about fem­inist theology as beginning with the individual ex­perience of women, few of them write of their own personal tales, appearing to prefer to demonstrate their analytic ability as would any masculine schol­ar. This was disappointing to one who agrees that much positive transformation in our churches will come from the willingness of women to speak from vulnerability.

I happened to be at Mass one day while work­ing on this review. I looked around at the women present. There was a career woman from MGM Stu­dios leading the Rosary. Nearby was a Mexican-Indi­an woman in her 60s leaning on the arm of her hus­band. From the fatigue in her expression one would guess she had mothered and grandmothered many children. There was a modern Sister praying with quiet simplicity after the Mass. There was I, a woman philosopher, in church after dropping my son off at school. How little Christian Feminism: Visions of a New Humanity has to say about our experience of life and church.


©1985 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

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